20th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22, Year B)
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Faith from the Margins to the Web Reflection from Sarah
When I put together our weekly packets for contributors from FFMTW, I often wonder where the conversation will lead. One of the joys of this project is that I don’t expect people to have preconceived ideas about the meaning of the scripture; instead, the interview asks those conversing together to consider where the Gospel passage has meaning and relevance in their own lives. Let it be said: those who participate in this project are not “new” to the Gospel. I commonly encounter people whose hearts have been hardened by the messages of this world which make it easy to assume that people living with homelessness, poverty, mental health and addiction are unchurched, less faithful or even [hurts me to write] in need of some sort of “conversion.” What I hope the readers of this blog are realizing week after week is that we are all…all of us…recipients of the Good News when our hearts are open to receive. Jesus continually reminds us that poverty and wealth are completely different in the eyes of the world than in the realm of God. God is abundantly present on the streets, shelters and soup kitchens of this world, and God’s beloved people who gather in those spaces reveal that to those of us with worldly privilege enough so that we don’t need (or perhaps, want) to rely upon the charity of others.
My Buddhist friends introduced me to the concept of “beginner’s mind.” Being mindful and open to learning is not the same as having no basis of information, nor does it mean being oblivious to the systems that oppress and constrain us from our full human potential. It means that we approach without constraint, with openness of mind and heart. Even in our most advanced studies, we can approach with openness and without judgement, allowing new learning and truth to emerge.
This week’s lesson has sometimes been used out of context to speak against people, or to legalistically judge their relationships and actions. But, reading this passage with beginner’s mind helps us see that Jesus wasn’t judging actions; Jesus was making a point that rather than the lines in the sand we can be quick to draw about who is “in” and who is “out,” the kingdom of God is instead to be experienced like the openness of a child. Jesus draws children to the center of this story, demonstrating the openness of heart that helps us see and know God.
This week, I didn’t give the lesson to just one or two people. I’ve talked with T, and Willie, and Angie…with Junior, and W.B., and several others about this passage. Many of them have felt the sharp pain of judgement by society and some, I am sad to relate, have internalized this to judge their own worthiness. Their faith, though, resides in a God that sees and knows them without drawing barriers. T was the one who grabbed my arm, her eyes fiery and her head shaking her dreadlocks back and forth as she told me about the moment she stopped believing the world’s judgement and came to be an advocate for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence, “I had already told my story years ago, and I knew the pain of not being believed, because of the color of my skin and the way that I looked. And then one day I was in the court with my friend, and I heard the other women telling their stories and I saw the way that people would look at them, like they had already written them off. Even the officers. Even the judge. The first time I stepped up next to someone to tell an officer, ‘Look at her! Listen to her! Look at me! If you can’t even look at us, you are being racist!’ I was terrified. But I had to say that. Nothing will change if people think it’s OK for a woman to be beat up, and especially a black woman. We have stories and we have lives. God knows that.”
This Gospel asks us to take up beginner’s mind when we begin to judge the worthy from the unworthy. Receiving God’s love as a child means setting aside hardness of heart and opening to the possibility of divine love and grace. In our own lives, how do we pattern ourselves after Jesus who reaches out and welcomes the most vulnerable (as children were in that society)? Maybe our best Gospel action is to follow Jesus’ lead: “He took them in his arms, laid hands upon them, and blessed them.”
May we be blessed by all who cross our paths today, as we open our hearts to encounter God.